Why Your Child May Need to See a Therapist

teenager talking to therapist
Getty Images

Parents want the best for their kids. If your child breaks their arm, you likely go right to the hospital, but if the same child is expressing anxiety or seems depressed, you may not know what to do. Just like adults, children go through difficult periods in their life where they might need help, guidance, or just someone to listen.

Children deal with school stress, bullying, friend drama, grief, and more throughout childhood. Sometimes children are embarrassed or scared to tell a parent or caregiver that something is wrong, and other times the adults in their lives are unsure if a problem is fleeting or something more serious.

Fortunately, there are a lot of options for parents or caregivers when it comes to finding help for their children. Whether you seek help from a pediatrician, a school counselor, or mental health professional, no parent should feel alone when it comes to protecting their child's mental health.

There are people who can help. Here are some signs that your child may benefit from talking to a neutral party like a mental health professional or a school counselor.

Changes Eating or Sleeping Habits

If your child's eating or sleeping habits have drastically changed, don't ignore these changes. Sleeping too much or not at all is a red flag while new eating habits can signal depression, anxiety, or even an eating disorder.

Destructive Behaviors

If your child is engaging in repeated destructive behaviors, it is important that they talk to a mental health professional. Self-destructive behaviors include cutting themselves, digging their nails into the skin to try to cause pain, or other acts of self-harm. Other destructive behaviors include alcohol or drug use.

Often, self-harm is a mask that numbs deeper anger, pain, or resentment. The help of a therapist can make a world of difference in these situations.

Extreme Feelings of Sadness or Worry

If a child seems unusually anxious, sad, or irritable for an extended period of time and it is getting in the way of their ability to do things they normally do, it is a good idea to seek help. Pay attention if your child is crying a lot or excessively worrying.

Disruptive Behavior

If your child's behavior is disrupting your family or getting them in trouble in school, something more might be going on. Many children express emotions through negative behaviors, such as acting out, talking back to teachers, or fighting with friends. Before you jump to discipline, think about whether talking to someone may be a better solution.

Social Isolation

Social withdrawal or isolation from peers is a sign that something may be wrong. Kids may decline invitations or delete social media accounts. This is especially concerning if this behavior is a big change from their usual personality.

Social isolation can be a sign of depression or anxiety. It also can be a sign of bullying or even teen dating violence. Ask questions about the change and encourage your child to discuss what they are experiencing with a professional.


It is common for kids to regress after major life changes, such as the birth of a new sibling, a move, or a parent's divorce. However, regressions such as bedwetting, excessive fearfulness, tantrums, and clinginess unrelated to a change may be a sign of an issue.

Increased Physical Complaints

Sometimes mental health issues in kids take the form of physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomachaches. Once you have ruled out any medical issues with a healthcare provider, your next step may be a mental health professional.

Some life experiences are inherently difficult, stressful, or emotional, and having a professional or neutral party to talk to could benefit your child.

Talking About Death Frequently

It is normal for kids to explore the concept of death and talk about it in a curious way, particularly after the loss of a pet or family member, but repeated talk about death and dying warrants some exploration. Listen for statements about suicide, self-harm, or thoughts about killing other people. Talk about suicide or killing another person requires immediate help.

If your child is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Stressful Situations

While it is normal for kids to feel sad, confused, or frustrated during difficult situations, they may not have the adequate coping skills to process these feelings. Life changes and stressful situations can present challenges that kids have trouble facing alone. If your child appears to be struggling after a big change like a move, divorce, changing schools, death, new sibling, or even a breakup or falling out with a friend, consider getting them extra support.

A Word From Verywell

It's normal to be concerned if your teen is acting out of character. But it is also important to be proactive and give your child the tools to process their feelings.

The guidance of a professional counselor or therapist who specializes in issues affecting children and teens can be incredibly helpful for kids going through a tough time. Therapy offers a safe space to share feelings and a guide to help them work through challenges.

By Jill Ceder, LMSW, JD
Jill Ceder, LMSW, JD is a psychotherapist working with women, children, adolescents, couples and families.